In our collective stand against this virus, it was great to see the belated commencement of the 2020 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) at Circuit Paul Ricard in the beautiful surroundings of the South of France. An extensive week of testing culminated in the execution of a drama filled, exciting multi-category race, somewhat behind closed doors but with most necessary measures observed by the huge majority privileged to attend and participate.
A typically balmy summers day on the Cote D’Azur greeted the competitors with azure blue skies and warm temperatures.
The #32 United Autosports Oreca 07-Gibson Tech took the first victory of the 2020 European Le Mans Series at the end of the thrilling 4 Hours of Le Castellet with Job Van Uitert taking the chequered flag on behalf of team-mates Alex Brundle and Will Owen. Its sister car #22 United Autosports Oreca of Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque was leading but a front left puncture resulting in a sixth pitstop dropped the car initially to a fourth place, but belatedly amended to the third step of the podium.
Nyck De Vries / Roman Rusinov / Mikkel Jensen in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus-Oreca separated the two, once a penalty had been assessed by the on-road second placed car of James Allen / Thomas Laurent / Alexandre Cougnaud the #39 Graff Oreca. The #39 was handed a three lap penalty for under-running the driving time of silver driver, Alexandre Cougnaud, which dropped them down the order to ninth, you can’t beat the clock!
The Cool Racing Oreca of Nicolas Lapierre, Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny ultimately placed fourth while #50 Richard Mille Racing was rewarded with a fifth place overall on its debut for Andre Negrao and Tatiana Calderon. Hopefully this will brighten Katherine Legge’s day and speed her recovery.
The United Autosports Orecas were strong from the start Phil Hanson leading away from pole and Will Owen drafting past the #26 Mikkel Jensen early in the race, progressing to the lead in similar fashion prior to the first round of pit stops.
The #26 G-Drive sponsored car was delivered to Roman Rusinov at the first stop to get the time in and dropped to fourth behind #24 Black-White/White-Black beautifully liveried Algarve Pro Racing Oreca in the hands of Jon Lancaster, unfortunately for Jon to be struck by one of a high number of early punctures.
Quarter race distance and a Full Course Yellow for collision at Signes/ end of the Mistral prompted all by Rusinov to pit, who went off strategy resulting in a late stop for the Orange & Black Aurus/Oreca.
At about one-third distance a safety car period was required to recover the #31 Julien Canal piloted Panis Racing Oreca which speared off into the final corner barrier. This destroyed a 20-second advantage the #32 in the hands of fast Alex Brundle had established over #22 now pedalled by Filipe Albuquerque and the two United Autosports cars duelled throughout the mid-section of the race.
Pitstops for each of the above switched the positions as the race moved into its final hour, and having built up a small lead Phil Hanson was struck by the aforementioned puncture which handed the victory to the #22 as the #26 also needed to make a late-stop having gone off-strategy as noted above. It was a sound roll of the dice but sadly lady luck was not paying out today.
The LMP3 victory went to the #2 United Autosports Ligier JS P230 Nissan with an inspired Wayne Boyd / emergent Tom Gamble / Robert Wheldon coming home from the pole claimed on Saturday. Maximum points for the All-British crew!
#13 Inter Europol Competition of Nigel Moore / Martin Hippe emerged from the final pit stop in front, but irrespressable Wayne Boyd would not be denied on this day and re-took the lead in the final 25 minutes to secure the win.
#15 RLR MSport came home in third, and the new Ligier JS P230-Nissan appeared dominant down to eighth place which was secured the Duqueine M30/D08-Nissan of #10 Nielsen Racing example.
The #77 Proton Competition Porsche RSR of Christian Ried, Michele Beretta and Alessio Picariello took victory in LMGTE. Picariello had taken the lead from the #74 Kessel Racing Ferrari around half-distance.
The Kessel Racing Ferrari shared by Michal Broniszewski, Nicola Cadei and David Perel finished second, whilst the Iron Lynx example #83 of Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey, and Michelle Gatting swept home in third to complete the podium places.